Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination

The Carnival Imagination is one of Carnival’s many Fantasy class cruise ships, capable of holding over two thousand passengers in over a thousand cabins. The ship was built in Finland, sent out on the first of July in 1995.
Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination sternThis ship takes passengers on short, three to four day long cruises from Long Beach California to Ensenada Mexico, stopping in Catalina Island on the way. The journey is slow paced yet short, with few activities and a simple itinerary, perfect for kids with autism. It is also a relatively affordable way to experience the Southern California and Mexico coast in the luxury of a cruise ship. We enjoyed our stay on the Imagination, especially our cabin.

Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination pool

Ship Decor

We found the ship decor to be a bit flashy, but we enjoyed the overhead giant Coppola that allowed natural light to stream into the ship. All the colors were bright and shiny, reminiscent of Vegas. In the central area of the ship, we saw glass elevators, grand staircases, and large crystal chandeliers.

Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination decorOur Cabin

The cruise cabin on our trip consisted of the basic amenities. The decor featured predominantly orange colors, particularly on the bed sheets, the floor, and the curtain over our window. We had a small safe for our devices, an appreciated security feature. The room itself was well lit, especially for a cruise cabin. Our room featured carpeting, an issue for those with allergies but perfect to muffle any noise for passengers below. We also could watch a small overhead TV in one corner of the room with plenty of great channels for kids.
Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination beds

Guests can book the room either with two single beds or with the singles pushed together to make one queen. We opted for the two singles, and the staff placed both beds to maximize cabin space. We found the temperature control right over the bed, meaning no one needed to get up to adjust the A/C. The room had few outlets, though we did find one by the bed. We had a decent amount of closet space, but one area was blocked by a ladder used for the bunk bed. We could also fit our suitcases under our beds.

Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination cabin

Though we never used the service, we had the option to call for room service; an option offered on all Carnival cruises.The room service menu offered some free choices as well as some dishes that could be purchased for a couple of bucks.

Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination electronic

Our Bathroom

Our bathroom also featured the essentials. The room was as well lit as the rest of the cabin, and the blue linoleum floor wasn’t slippery. The bathroom boasted the cabin’s second outlet, perfect for hair dryers or any other electronic devices. We had a little shelf room as well as a place to hang a swim suit, a welcome touch. The shower itself boasted a head that wasn’t easy to use, which would be a bonus. It would be difficult if not impossible for a small child to turn it on high and get scalded.

Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination corridor

Dining Options

Compared to the newer Carnival ships, the Carnival Imagination doesn’t offer as many options. Like all Carnival ships, we could enjoy the food offerings on the Lido deck. These options included The Blue Iguana, serving fresh Mexican fare, and Guy’s Burger Joint, serving burgers with delicious toppings.

 

Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination pin

The ship also boasted traditional dining halls were passengers could dine either at set times or anytime during specific hours. The sit-down menu changed daily and offered many choices including gluten free and vegan.

Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination eat

Activities

Though the Carnival Imagination is a smaller vessel, we could still enjoy a plethora of activities for patrons of all ages. The ship offered outdoor pools with water slides, mini golf, basketball, ping pong, and shuffleboard. We also noted the ship offered several contests and shows. We chose to attend the family-oriented shows and found the Hasbro Game Show delightful. Music lovers will enjoy the high seas Karaoke and Music Trivia Party.
Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination ship

Cost

Pricing starts at $179 per person when traveling off season. Certain events, such as cruises featuring a live performance from a celebrity, will cause a significant increase in price. Carnival Imagination also offers a cruise line option that skips a stop in Catalina all together, decrease the cruise time to two days. However, this cruise option is on average slightly more expensive, starting at $189 per person and typically costing significantly more.
Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination games

Autism Travel Tips:

  • We experienced many different odors throughout our deck four corridors, mainly smoke cooking. Parents of children with smell sensitivities should keep this in mind.
  • The cruise featured wifi, but it was somewhat slow, which could be frustrating.
  • We did felt the movement and the swaying of the ship. Parents of children who are seasick easily should bring medication to help prevent seasickness.
  • The swaying of the ship can be felt strongly in the cabins facing the ocean. Parents should consider not booking an outside cabin, especially if they or their child is prone to motion sickness.
  • Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination court
  • Parents of children with noise sensitivities should book a cabin on deck seven or above to avoid engine noise.
  • The Carnival Imagination offers only a few balcony rooms. Parents may want to consider avoiding booking a balcony room to ensure the safety of kids with autism.
  • Most room types on the Carnival Imagination come in Accessible versions. Parents who might need this option should make sure they request it when booking.
  • Some of Carnival Imagination’s cruise itineraries go directly from Long Beach to Ensenada for a three-day trip. Parents might want to consider this option, especially if they are attempting traveling on a cruise for the first time with their child with autism.

 

 

Our Family Excursion with Belmont Shore’s Gondola Getaway

Our Family Excursion with Belmont Shores' Gondola Getaway pin

Many people know Venice, Italy for its romantic gondolas. But many don’t know that they can get the gondola experience in Southern California! Gondola Getaway is a gondola experience through the canals of Long Beach around Belmont Shore. Families and children alike will have a wonderful, relaxing time at this unique venue.

Our Family Excursion with Gondola Getaway top

History

Back in the 1920s, the canals used by the company today were built to resemble the iconic Venetian canals and staffed with gondolas. The gondolas back then helped show the local properties in a unique and fun way. In 1981, company founder Mike O’Toole was a USC student who knew of the history of the Long Beach gondolas and canals and started working out the details of his own business. After he graduated the following year, he decided to initiate the business, and thirty-four years later Gondola Getaway is still going strong. Currently, the company runs the first and largest American gondola fleet of twelve gondolas.

Our Family Excursion with Gondola Getaway water

What You Will See

We had a great experience and considered this to be a hidden gem of Long Beach. The water was smooth the day we went, and our gondolier was Fabio, a Sicilian young man who talked to us a lot as he practiced his English.

Fabio detailed how the gondolas can quickly tilt at faster speeds and how it takes a lot of skill and technique to row a gondola properly.

Our Family Excursion with Gondola Getaway gondolier

We saw several interesting sights as we journeyed through the canal.
First, we saw a hydro bar/peddle bar, a floating bar where patrons could peddle as they drank to move around the canal.
Fabio pointed out the oldest house on the block, a home formerly owned by the Hersey family.

Surprisingly,Belmont Shore had lots of people doing various sports like kayaking, surfing, and swimming the day we visited. Everyone we passed by was incredibly friendly. We even saw a lab catching a toy in the water while wearing a life jacket!

Our Family Excursion with Gondola Getaway canal

After the trip, Mike gave us a picture of us in the gondola. The owner also told us a fun fact! Every year, for the past 31 years, O’Toole has taken his team of gondoliers from CA to Venice, Italy to participate in the twenty-mile-long Vogalonga race, usually early in summer. This way, the gondoliers can see where the practice started, learning how it is done in Italy so they can bring back authentic techniques to the states.

Other Unique Features

Guests can request the Message in a Bottle service for an additional $20.
This service means the gondolier will take any given message, put in in a wine bottle, and “find” it during the trip to read aloud. While advertised to couples, this can be a fun event for parents and kids as well.

Our Family Excursion with Gondola Getaway boat

Visitors can also request the Brunch on a Boat service for $40 per person. Guests ride the gondola as they dine on various Italian foods such as meats, cheeses, and pasta salads. Those interested need at least eight people in their party to request the brunch, with a maximum of twelve.

For those who love pizza, Gondola Getaway also offers a pizza cruise for $40 per person. Travelers get to ride a private gondola set up with a table, plates, and table cloth. Kids and parents can enjoy fresh pizza from Domenico’s Ristorante as well as salad and garlic bread. Like the Brunch of a Boat, this option is available to parties between eight and twelve people.

Our Family Excursion with Gondola Getaway boats

Location, Cost, and Hours

The Gondola Getaway is located near the resort area of Belmont Shore in Long Beach, California. The boats run from eleven AM to eleven PM, seven days a week. Visitors can pay $130 for a four-person gondola, paying $20 for each additional person. They can also reserve the large “Carolina” gondola for $413 which seats seven to fourteen guests.

Our Family Excursion with Gondola Getaway rowing

Autism Travel Tips:

  • If one’s trip ends later in the day, the staff offers guests blankets. This option is useful for kids who deal with temperature sensitivities.
  • Guests should arrive fifteen minutes before their departure time.
  • Parents should make sure kids don’t lean over the side of the gondola.If kids don’t know how to swim parents should ask for a life jacket for them.
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  • The ride typically lasts about an hour. Families can request a shorter route if their kid is antsy.
  • Space on the gondola is tight, so parents of children who might have a problem with this should prepare their kid.

Family Stay at Courtyard Long Beach Downtown

 

 

Family Stay at Courtyard Long Beach Downtown

The Courtyard Long Beach Downtown, located at 3841 N. Lakewood Boulevard, boasts 261 well-appointed rooms. This hotel is an excellent choice for travelers wishing to explore the area of Long Beach or the Island of Catalina for the day. Conveniently located in the heart of the city, the hotel is within walking distance to various restaurants, the Convention Center, and the beach. The city’s main attractions, the Aquarium and Queen Mary, are less than a ten-minute drive away.

Family Stay at Courtyard Long Beach Downtown outside

What Makes it Family Worthy

The property offers rooms with two queen sized beds and king beds with a pull out sofa for families. The hotel is close to entertainment and food spots as well as city parks and beachfront. However, it is on a much quieter street than the main thoroughfare Ocean Boulevard.

Fellow Travelers

The property regularly hosts business people that come into town for conferences as well as recreational vacationers looking for a more budget-friendly option to stay outside of LA proper.

Family Stay at Courtyard Long Beach Downtown chair

Our Welcome

As usual, we called the hotel to ask for our particular needs which are feather-free bedding due to allergy and a quiet room to help our son with autism who is extremely noise sensitive. The front desk staff was incredibly helpful and assured us that everything was already noted both in our Marriott profile and reservation. We were not disappointed! Check-in was short and went smoothly.

Decor

Upon entering the property, the first thing we noticed was the modern, eclectic style decor. The walls were done in orange with black accent pieces. The lobby furniture in tans and blues complemented the orange walls and accent pieces spread throughout the public areas. The overall effect was visually pleasing and gave the place a laid back atmosphere.

Family Stay at Courtyard Long Beach Downtown bed

Noteworthy is the large screen TV with a sitting area that could occupy younger kids or family members while their parents are checking in.

Our Room

When we initially entered the room, the first thing we checked was the evacuation chart on the back of the door. Our room was situated near one fire extinguisher and two alarms and was five doors from the exit. It is always important for parents to teach their kids how to behave if there’s an emergency and explore the fastest route to the nearest exit.

The closet was on the immediate right as one entered the room and had plenty of space. Included were hangers along with an iron and board, ideal for patrons in town for business meetings.

Family Stay at Courtyard Long Beach Downtown tv
Speaking of storage; most hotels provide luggage racks, but we’ve typically found them to be a bit on the flimsy side. However, at the Courtyard, there was a luggage area that doubled as a sitting area. This area was a welcome feature, and we could store our suitcases out of the way while they were still readily available.

The sleeping area in the room boasted two comfortable queen beds. The wall behind them displayed a beautiful mural of a beach scene. Situated between the two beds was a nightstand with a phone and alarm clock on top of it. The sitting area by the sliding door consisted of a chair and ottoman.

Furthermore, the room had a separate section with a desk and a chair for business people to comfortably do their work.

Something that surprised us was the way the hotel utilized space and presented their air conditioner room units. Most air conditioners installed in the rooms take up a lot of space. But, to compensate for the reduced space, at the Courtyard, designers placed a table over the air conditioner. The AC unit was super quiet and didn’t disturb our family at all.

Family Stay at Courtyard Long Beach Downtown space

The lighting was another feature that was different than other places we have stayed in recent years. Normally there’s an array of floor and desk lamps with old fashioned switches around the room, but at this Courtyard the lights are turned on via motion sensor. So, as soon as travelers enter the room and pass by the motion sensor the lights turn on automatically. This way guests don’t have to fumble around for switches.

We loved the room flooring which was wood, unlike many other properties that still sport wall to wall carpet. I can’t say enough about the benefits of wood versus carpet flooring when it comes to traveling with allergies and asthma like we do.

Could Use Improvement

The room had a balcony with a sliding door which might be hazardous for younger kids because it only has one lock that slides up and down and was relatively easy to open.

A disappointment to us was the lack of safes in the room to put our electronic devices. We hope that during the next hotel renovation, room safes will be added.

Family Stay at Courtyard Long Beach Downtown bathroom

The Bathroom

The glass sliding door to the bathroom didn’t have a lock, which is something I would have liked to see, but the use of a sliding door was a nice way to save space in the room. Just like in the room, there was a motion sensor for the lighting in the bathroom.

The gray speckled granite counter top extended out over the commode to give guests more space in the small room. The designer deserves due credit for cleverly utilizing the space.

Of course, there was a mirror for applying makeup or shaving, and the included toiletry kit was Paul Mitchell brand.

Family Stay at Courtyard Long Beach Downtown AC

The curtained bathtub and shower combo had a grab bar. Unfortunately, we saw no handheld shower head, a feature that would have made bath time easier for parents or caregivers when washing special needs individuals or younger kids.

We appreciated that the hotel staff made sure to give us enough towels for four guests, something a lot of hotels don’t do unless specifically asked.

Amenities

The venue featured complimentary Wi-Fi for guests, always a welcome upgrade for families.

There was an onsite gym with basic workout equipment, including treadmills, a press bench, and bikes.

Family Stay at Courtyard Long Beach Downtown pool

Guests we welcome use the outdoor pool or hot tub, but parents need to be aware there is no lifeguard on duty.

The hotel did have a mini store that sold drinks, snacks, and frozen foods if any guests happened to get hungry in the middle of the night.

Dining Option

The hotel flagship restaurant is called the James Republic where we enjoyed a quick happy hour snack and our next day breakfast, an egg asparagus toast sandwich. We got the delightful opportunity to meet the chef, who discussed his farm to table concepts implemented in the venue. He mentioned, during the chat, that he had recently spearheaded a culinary cruise to the Greek Islands on Celebrity Cruises.

Family Stay at Courtyard Long Beach Downtown food

The downside was somewhat slow service and high prices for the dishes that could deter some travelers from trying it. We did like the restaurant decor, which was eclectic with a hip vibe, and that it had both indoor and outdoor seating.

Cost

Pricing starts at $160 per night. For a little extra, at around $180 a night, you can get a room with a view of the Queen Mary. As mentioned above, rooms come with complimentary high-speed wifi. Parking onsite is $22, and valet parking is available for an additional fee.

Autism Travel Tips:

Family Stay at Courtyard Long Beach Downtown table

 

Taking the Family to the California Aquarium of the Pacific

Taking the Family to the California Aquarium of the Pacific pin

California’s Aquarium of the Pacific was at one time known as the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. It is host to close to two million visitors each year who enjoy the captivating array of oceanic and marine exhibits showcasing the inhabitants and regions of marine life from Southern California, Baja, the North Pacific, and Tropical Pacific. There are over 11,000 different animals from various fish, sharks, jellyfish, penguins, sea lions, lorikeets and more. A walk through aviary and underwater crawl space are favorites with many families.

Taking the Family to the California Aquarium of the Pacific ray

  Aquarium of the Pacific Exhibits

New in 2015, the Aquarium opened a 4,700-square-foot Earth-Friendly Garden featuring California native and drought-resistant plants. An extremely efficient irrigation system is also on display to educate visitors on solutions to Southern California’s ongoing water shortage challenges. There are several sections in the Aquarium, including a section for “Horses and Dragons,” a penguin habitat, and a shark lagoon. There is also an outdoor area where kids can run around, an enclosed lorikeet garden, and it is here that you will find touch tanks where kids and adults can pet the friendly rays and sharks.

Taking the Family to the California Aquarium of the Pacific jellyfish

The Aquarium also offers exclusive evening events from time to time tailored to serve the unique needs of children and families with autism. During most of these occasions, the Aquarium closes will be closed to the public in the evenings to foster a more tranquil environment for the special event.

Our son with autism was very excited to visit the Aquarium since he hadn’t visited it in over a decade. We were pleased to discover that not only did the venue offer discounts for persons with disability, but they provide a complimentary pass for caregivers or people accompanying the visitor with a disability.

Taking the Family to the California Aquarium of the Pacific landscape

 

Our first stop was the jellyfish, which as usual were not only photogenic but fun to watch. We were fascinated by the two giant Japanese crabs that were trying to walk in the same direction, met face to face, and came to a standstill. We wondered what they were going to do until one climbed and walked around the other one. The mini seahorse exhibit was another place we stopped to gawk at since some of them mimic sea plants so well that it is hard to differentiate between the animal and the background decor of the aquarium.

 Taking the Family to the California Aquarium of the Pacific crab

Probably the most impressive were the outdoor tanks with the manatees that literally came to people’s hands in the water to be petted. In addition, we got to see a sea lion show where we watched them do tricks. It was exciting and educational for the audience, as the trainers do talk about what the animals eat and how they train them.

Taking the Family to the California Aquarium of the Pacific tank

Our kids also loved the interactive stations where guests can touch starfish. We got to see how starfish eat and how they stick to the wall with their mini tentacles, which is very impressive. There is also a Lorikeet Forest exhibit where you can have the mini birds land on you. Not to be missed is the shark pool in the outdoor area where you can see baby sharks swimming.

There was one morbid exhibit right at the entrance when we were there. A big dead shark was being “recycled” by all the other sea life. It was fascinating and educational, but probably for older kids or those interested in this kind of thing.

Taking the Family to the California Aquarium of the Pacific death

Admission, Hours, and Location

Discounted aquarium admission tickets are quite difficult to acquire. The best sources to find aquarium tickets at a discounted rate are through CitySavver. The aquarium is open 9 a.m.– 6 p.m. every day, except Christmas Day (Dec. 25) and during the Grand Prix of Long Beach. You can purchase tickets upon your arrival at the ticket windows in front of the Aquarium or online.

 

Taking the Family to the California Aquarium of the Pacific starfish

Autism Travel Tips:

  • The Aquarium is especially congested during weekends, the holiday season, and during the summer. If you would like to beat the crowds when visiting on the weekend, try arriving early. On weekdays, school groups visit the Aquarium in the morning hours but leave by 2 pm.
  • Bring sunglasses and sunscreen for the outdoor show.
  • Be sure to download the Aquarium Explorer app before you come to plan your visit more efficiently.
  • You can find hand sanitizing stations all around the Aquarium which is a nice touch.
  • Try to get a center row rather than a side row for the Sea Lion show; otherwise, you will not be able to see much.
  • Teach your kid to be respectful of the animals in the touch tank, and that while they are allowed to pet the passing sea creatures, they are certainly not allowed to grab them or lift them out of their tanks.
  • Not to be missed are the hours where they feed the animals. You can watch for free while they explain what each animal is fed.
  • Service animals that accompany guests with disabilities are welcome, and the Aquarium offers a service animal policy page for more information. However, the Aviary is a free flight aviary. Therefore, service animals are not allowed in Lorikeet Forest. There is staff available to provide assistance to both the guest and animal.
  • Wheelchairs are complimentary and can be checked out at the information desk on a first come, first, serve basis. A credit card is required at the time of check out.

Taking the Family to the California Aquarium of the Pacific coral

  • The Aquarium does not allow outside food within the Aquarium. However, picnic tables are located in the front grass area on a first come, first, serve basis. You can eat any snacks, lunches or edible food or drink items there.
  • There is one restaurant called Café Scuba that is available for guests on the second floor.
  • There are no lockers available so plan accordingly.

Overall, we had was a fun and education experience with a lot of sensory elements, in particular for kids with autism.

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